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Miss Cougar International speaks out: So what if cougars like young guys?

Laura Donovan Contributor
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Though older men get praised for scoring hot young girlfriends, older women (commonly referred to as “cougars”) are often berated and laughed at for pursuing younger guys.

Since the 1967 release of “The Graduate,” a film centered on a mother seducing an unsettled twenty-something aged man, cougars have been viewed as aggressive females who force themselves upon insecure males.

The 2009 television series “Cougar Town” reinforces the idea that it’s unusual and humorous for a seasoned woman to desire a young, physically fit dude who would not have issues downstairs, but a “cougar-cub” relationship does not need to be seen as scandalous or weird.

Kenneth Martinez, 21, never expected to date a woman 16 years his senior, but he does. The “cub” met his current girlfriend while waiting for a buddy to pick him up at a skate park in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“We talked for like an hour,” Martinez told The Daily Caller. “She gave me her number, then we went out.”

This was not Martinez’s first cougar encounter.  He said an older woman had fawned over his appearance before he had even reached adulthood.

“I was not even 18,” Martinez said. “I was just going into a gas station and she stopped me and told me ‘you’re the most good looking kid I’ve ever seen.’ I was like, thanks, you know.”

Amy Luna Manderino, also known as Miss Cougar International 2011, told TheDC that cougar dating is no different than traditional relationships.

“We are just people like everyone else,” Manderino, 40, told TheDC, adding that news outlets and the media have created a “tabloid” image of cougars depicting them as almost predators. (PICTURE: Courteney Cox of “Cougar Town”)

“Sometimes when I do my public speaking I joke that somebody in some board room somewhere decided that you cannot write an article on cougars without one of three keywords, [which are] predator, prey, and prowl,” Manderino said, noting that many people assume cougars are just out to get wild in bed with young guys.

This stereotype, the Berkeley, California resident says, doesn’t present the full story.

“These relationships are so rich in so many other ways besides just the sexual aspects,” Manderino explained. “[I]t is tabloid because it’s titillating and sells newspapers, but I think the real story is how gender roles are shifting in our society.”

Manderino says younger men are appealing because most do not strive to be a macho, alpha male.

“Hyper masculinity says do not go to the doctor, do not admit that you have any pain, do not admit that you have any problems … Do not learn how to cook. You partner with one of these hyper masculine guys and he’s not taking care of himself,” Manderino said.

“One of the things I love to say is the only difference between over forty and under forty is that the consequences of your choices are more visible. The guys that have that kind of lifestyle when they are over forty are the guys you hear cougars complain about,” she said. “The men my age, they are unhealthy, overweight and cannot take care of themselves because we raised them that way.”

But younger men have been taught differently, and today’s mothers are teaching their sons to develop healthier habits.

“There is a whole group of women who are raising men to say, no ‘I’m going to eat healthy. I’m not going to feel feminine because I eat fruits and vegetables. I’m not feminine because I care about the planet. Or that money is not everything to me,'” Manderino said of the men she prefers.

Dating consultant Nicole Johnson told TheDC that cougars should not be considered female creepers for being fed up with the guys in their own age group and trying out males with fresh perspectives.

“I do not believe ‘Cougars’ prey on young men,” Johnson said. “Pop culture’s definition of ‘Cougars’ is unjust; the word ‘prey’ should be used for true predators. I believe these middle-aged women have become frustrated with trying to date and connect with men their age. Because they are disheartened with the men in their demographic, they seek out new romantic options with younger men. That’s not preying, that’s perseverance!”

Currently single, Manderino reiterated her appreciation for the new trait she’s noticed in younger men.

“[These guys] are looking at their fathers and looking at their friends and saying, I don’t want to be that way. I do not want to be violent. I do not want to be all about money. I do not want to have to put down women to feel like a man,” Manderino said. “Women who have a lot of high self-esteem, we don’t want be with men like that.”

A month after first chatting with TheDC, Martinez’s relationship is still going strong. His girlfriend is getting a new car, a 325 BMW hardtop convertible, with all the options.

“She talks to me a lot about her marriage and stuff,” Martinez said. “She’s in a custody battle. Other than that, it’s great. We’ve progressed from hanging out on the weekend to nearly everyday.”

Martinez has also talked with his family about his dating exploits, and for the most part, they don’t mind at all. Martinez said only his mother expressed reservation about his relationship because his girlfriend is still married, although she has filed for divorce.

“They’re kinda sarcastic about it: Cougar this, cougar that, but they’re cool with it,” he said.

Michael Mayday contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter.